Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs: How One Banana-Exporting Country Achieved Worldwide Reach

Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs: How One Banana-Exporting Country Achieved Worldwide Reach

Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs: How One Banana-Exporting Country Achieved Worldwide Reach

Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs: How One Banana-Exporting Country Achieved Worldwide Reach


Bananas are the fifth most widely traded farm product. While the results of monopolization in the banana business, such as environmental contamination and the exploitation of labor, are frequently criticized, Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs demonstrates that the industry is not globally uniform, nor uniformly rotten. Douglas Southgate and Lois Roberts challenge the perception that multinational corporations face no significant competitors in the banana business and argue that Ecuador and Colombia are important sources of competition. Focusing on Ecuador, the world's leading exporter of bananas since the early 1950s, Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs highlights the factors that led to the development of independent fruit industries, including environmental conditions, governmental policies, and, most significantly, entrepreneurship on the part of local growers and exporters.

Although multinational firms headquartered in the United States have been active in the country, Ecuador has never been a banana republic, dominated economically and politically by a foreign corporation. Instead, Southgate and Roberts show that a competitive market for tropical fruit exists in and around Guayaquil, a port city dedicated to international commerce for centuries. Moreover, that market has consistently rewarded productive entrepreneurship. Drawing on interviews and archival research, Southgate and Roberts investigate leading exporters' and growers' origins, which are more humble than privileged, as well as their paths to success in the banana business. Globalized Fruit, Local Entrepreneurs shows that international marketing by Guayaquil-based merchants has been aggressive and innovative. As a result, Ecuador's tropical fruit sector has expanded more than it would have done had multinational corporate dominance never been challenged.


A tropical commodity bought and sold by the boatload throughout the world. Agribusinesses with worldwide reach, including a firm that has been a lightning rod for anti-corporate criticism since the Great Depression. Minor Latin American states on the receiving end of globalization. An uncomplicated, and oft-told, story of banana republics and the misfortunes visited on them by multinational companies. What more need be said?

Bananas are the ultimate nonlocal food. More tons of wheat are exported. Cross-border shipments of corn and soybeans are more sizable as well. Barley holds fourth place in a ranking of agricultural exports by weight because harvests in Europe are routinely sold to feedlots and breweries in neighboring countries. But bananas come next, in fifth place and far ahead of every other fruit and vegetable. International shipments of bananas are a full order of magnitude greater than the cross-border trade in rice, which is produced in enormous quantities in China, India, and other Asian nations though almost entirely for domestic consumption. Economists characterize the international rice market as thin, which is another way of saying that the staple grain of the world’s most populous continent is primarily a local food. In contrast, countless bunches of fruit are purchased in the United States, Germany, and other places where few bananas grow. These places’ imports come from countries where negligible shares of production are consumed domestically, thereby allowing practically all output to be dispatched overseas. Safe to say, no farm product is more globalized than bananas.

Likewise, no agricultural commodity is associated more closely with large corporations based in the United States. The banana business was largely the creation of the United Fruit Company, called The Octopus because of its near monopoly in the U.S. market and its control of supplies in Central America and other parts of the Caribbean Basin for many years after the firm’s founding right before the turn of the twentieth century. The banana republic narrative derives from this period, when The Octopus overwhelmed its commercial rivals and controlled the fortunes of entire nations.

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